Absence of Touch

Absence of Touch

According to my mother, I was a baby who did not like the touch of humans. As I grew up I would be reminded over and over again of how I rejected her as a baby and preferred hanging out in my crib with a cloth diaper next to my face to her (or any other adult’s) touch.

It was the lack of a desire to be touched as a baby that started the belief amongst family that I was/am mean. I don’t know why I rejected my mother and the other adults. I know at some point I allowed my older sister to cuddle and hold me. I also know that there is not one baby picture of me, although my father took plenty I am told. I am not a person who enjoys random hugs, especially if I am very upset.

When I am at my saddest or angriest I cannot stand to be touched. Not even eye touching—no contact. And I don’t like it when people believe it is their job to decide who needs a hug and just assault me because I look like their embrace will make my life better. Seriously, there is this group where I go searching for mental health and these hugging whores just assault me and I’m like, “I’m good. No thank you.” They really take offense.

During orientation week at Alderson FPC (they pretend your first week like it’s some damn University “get to know you” and then it all falls apart) we learned that it is a violation of the Bureau of Prison (BOP) policy for inmates to touch. The code is a 408 I believe and it is cited as, “Inappropriate touching of another inmate. (e.g. hugging; holding hands; kissing. Etc.)” No big deal as I did not really want anyone touching me. We were taught by a psychologist at Alderson FPC that, “You have no friends in prison. You can be friendly with people, but no one here is your friend.” This same psychologist taught us that incarceration, “Is not a traumatic event.” For the most part she was right, about the friendship thing.

Initially, during orientation week, I laughed when the Associate Warden met with our “cohort” of incoming inmates and explained the “no touching rules”. Sex. Now sex is a criminal offense and can get you another charge. Again, this was no problem for me; sex was the last thing on my mind, as I looked around at all the khaki colored dressed women. Who the hell wants sex? (Turns out a lot of women do…)

I had a great line while incarcerated, “Sorry. I’m a lesbian on the street, not in prison.” I absolutely stuck to this and did not engage. What was the point? Eventually, I met a couple of people that I did want to hug or hold their hands just to be in community and friendship. My bunky that is from Armenia and is almost 70 now (and still in prison) kissed me on my forehead one evening as I sat in our cube crying. I remember thinking that we could get a “shot” for her peck of comfort. But it felt good and caring. She took such good care of me and I of her.

Then I met another woman from DC. We worked in horticulture together and we became very good friends. She is still my friend. Before she left prison she wrote me this note and told me how amazing she thinks I am and how worried she was to be leaving me. (Prison was not kind to me.)

We had a chaplain at Alderson who is Episcopalian. The BOP cannot interfere with religious practices and this chaplain took full advantage of this fact. I mean we even had the Holy Eucharist with real wine, because it is a BOP policy. Chaplain would have us “Pass the Peace” as is a part of our religious practice. She would hug each and every one of us and call us by our first name. As we passed the peace if we wanted we could hug one another. I hugged a lot of people on these Saturday evenings—others I passed by because you have no friends in prison. At the end of the service, as we exited, Chaplain would hug us again. This service was powerful and needed.

One day, as I sat alone knitting, I remember thinking how they can take everything from you in prison. Obviously your freedom is taken. They take your individuality—hence we all wore the same colors and uniform. They take away your right to see and love color—you can’t wear any of the pretty things you make with yarn so I always kept a ball of some knitting so I could see and touch bright colors. They take away your right to touch and be touched—to be human.

While I was locked away I remembered every hug from my past that I turned down because I was too sad or hurt. I conjured up those moments in my head of people I know and love and recreated the scenes and in them I was wrapped up so tightly in their embraces that I could almost believe they were right there with me.

I’ve been home for almost a year and I let people I know hug me. I’m by no means a hugging whore, but I let myself be embraced from time to time—when I’m not too sad or angry—and there are moments that I even ask for hugs.

. hands As far as the stories of my infancy and rejection of touch this is what I believe: I was very smart when I was pre-verbal and I knew about kindness and hurt. I want to go back to that time, before I could speak and relearn how to turn away from that which I can see a mile back is not good for me and say, “No thank you. I’m good. I’ll have a cloth diaper instead of you.”

Amme Voz


One thought on “Absence of Touch

  1. Powerful story about touch/no touch/touch me, Amme. I’m reminded of so many times in my own life when the act of touch was a weapon and times when touch was a blessing, a simple act of kindness. Thank you for reminding me. Kyle


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